Seven families, one from each of the uniformed services, have been selected as National Military Family Association’s 2009 Military Families of the Year for the roles they play in their communities and the way they embrace the military lifestyle.
“They’re really all great,” said Bailey Toombs, a National Military Family Association spokeswoman. “A lot of them are just really involved in the community and just go above and beyond.”
The association serves the five branches of the armed forces as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Service.
To be nominated, or to nominate themselves, families must be associated with one of the services or be the family of a fallen servicemember, Toombs said. Active duty, reserve components, and retiree families of the Army, Navy, Air Force Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, or the commissioned corps of NOAA or the Public Health Service also are eligible.
The seven families chosen to represent their services are:
-- Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Nolan and his family, of Fort Riley, Kan., are the Army Family of the Year. The family is active in its church, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, as well as the children’s school and Nolan’s command.
-- Lt. j.g. Joshua Caldwell and his family, of Kailua, Hawaii, are the Navy Family of the Year. The Caldwells have overcome many obstacles to get to where they are today. They regularly volunteer in the community and help to support hospital patients, homeless veterans and disabled youth.
-- Sgt. Dennis Leanes and his family, of Camp Lejeune, N.C., are the Marine Corps Family of the Year. When the sergeant is deployed, his wife and children throw themselves into serving their community. According to the family, they "have learned not to define ourselves by our challenges, but by our accomplishments."
-- Master Sgt. Wayne and Tech. Sgt. Thane Ojala and their family, of Las Vegas, are the Air Force Family of the Year. The dual-military family volunteers and says, "It's a good feeling to know we're contributing to something greater than ourselves." They view the challenges of military life as an opportunity to become closer as a family.
-- Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron Udland and his family, of Juneau, Alaska, are the Coast Guard Family of the Year. This family's passion is the Relay for Life fundraiser for cancer research. They've turned volunteering into a whole-family activity and love to spend time together exploring the wonderful activities that Juneau has to offer.
-- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Family of the Year Cmdr. Shep Smith and family, are stationed at Norfolk, Va. They like to travel, participate in a community theater group, and stay involved in the NOAA Corps community. The Smiths are active participants in the NOAA Officers Family Association, helping to keep their small community strong.
-- Public Health Service Family of the Year Cmdr. Dana Hall and the Horesh family, stationed at Overland Park, Kan., support local food banks because they are "working hard to teach our children that they have a responsibility to actively participate in the improvement of their community."
The National Military Family Association’s National Military Family of the Year will be chosen from among these seven families and announced Oct. 28 in Washington. The announcement, and presentation of awards by the service chiefs, will be made as part of the organization’s 40th anniversary celebration.
The National Military Family Association is a nonprofit organization committed to strengthening and protecting the families of the men and women currently serving, retired, wounded or fallen. It provides families of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Commissioned Corps of the USPHS and NOAA with information, works to get them the benefits they deserve, and offers programs that improve their lives.